Nikhil Pandhi

Anthropology Graduate Student

Nikhil Pandhi is a doctoral candidate in medical and cultural anthropology at Princeton who broadly researches the entanglements between caste, class, community medicine and healthcare in urban India. His current project tentatively titled  How Does Caste Make Us Sick? Chronicles of Injury, Endurance, Chronicity and Health Capital in Contemporary India  builds on ethnographic fieldwork in Delhi and northern India (Punjab/NCR) with low-income, lower-caste collaborators battling a range of biomedical and biosocial afflictions ranging from drug addictions, HIV, TB, leprosy, and other mental health conditions. Drawing on Dalit experiences and stories of ‘health’ (swasthya) Nikhil ethnographically investigates how Caste becomes chronic as a determinant of individual and community-wide health disparities in India. Relationally, Nikhil also investigates how upper-caste Indian middle-class aspirations of healthy, meritorious living and well-being (un)ethically implicate lower-caste lifeworlds, labours and livelihoods. Rather than treating caste as a transcendental or static-structural category, Nikhil’s multi-cited ethnography traces concatenations of toxic ecologies, illness exposures, symptoms, and phenomenologies of exclusion that reveal diffused cartographies of caste, gender, class, space and other graded inequalities whilst shoring up distinctive trajectories of vulnerability, injury and health for Dalit bodies. Despite their invisible presence in Indian public and private health systems, Nikhil argues Dalit bodies become crucial to maintaining the upper caste world in a state of health. Aside from ethnography, an equally important aspect of Nikhil’s research interrogates affective archives of Dalit literature, memoirs, poems and short stories while asking how Dalit bodies are, in their own terms, framed and failed by ‘health’.

In his wider doctoral project Nikhil is interested in forging decolonial solidarities with critical race studies, critical global health and critical medical anthropology. Nikhil is also interested in how Caste is being interpellated in the current COVID-19 pandemic in India. Nikhil fluently speaks Hindi, English, Portuguese and Punjabi and also serves as a research assistant in Princeton’s Brazil Lab. Before Princeton Nikhil was a television journalist in India (NDTV Ltd.) and has worked among many of the communities he is now ethnographically collaborating with. Nikhil holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Delhi and an MPhil from the University of Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar (2014-16).